Accepted paper:

Transformations in the experience and social meaning of the warrior body: from Tamil Tiger training camps to exile in France

Author:

Giacomo Mantovan (CRIA ISCTE-IUL)

Paper short abstract:

This paper focuses on body transformations in the life trajectories of Tamil Tigers fighters exiled in France. It seeks to understand, firstly, how the warrior body is constructed in the training camps and, secondly, how its social meaning and its experiences change in the context of exile.

Paper long abstract:

This paper focuses on the body of former members of Tamil Tigers (LTTE), a secessionist organization which fought in the Sri Lankan civil war (1983-2009). It is based on long-term ethnographic work (2008-2017) among Tamil militants in Paris. My interviewees enlisted in the 1980s or 1990s and, after nearly ten years of service, went to France during the 2000s. I seek to understand, firstly, how the war has been experienced and embodied, and secondly how in exile the body is seen to provide new meanings and experiences.

In the first part, I will show how the warrior body is produced during military training. While scholarship on non-state fighters tends to focus on narratives, propaganda and symbolic meanings, I will show that discipline and physical conditioning are crucial for building what a fighter is and how he or she perceives him or her self.

In the second part, I will analyse the fighters' body during demobilization and exile. All these fighters have been injured, some have been tortured, others have become invalids. I will show how the embodiment of their history changes their perception of themselves and their place in the world. Moreover, the body is the place where truth is revealed (Fassin and d'Halluin 2005); however, truth changes according the context: does the body have the same meaning when it is shown to Tamil militants, to the anthropologist or to the doctor who writes a medical certificate to be used for an asylum request?

panel P069
Movement, stasis and interoception: unsettling the body [Medical Anthropology Network]